Domestic violence acceptable in Bhutan, finds study

Dechen Yangzom in Thimphu, Bhutan/Kuensel
Asia News Network

Thimphu, Bhutan (Kuensel/ANN) - Sonam was washing dishes after dinner when she felt a blow and a deep pain on her back.

She turned around to find out her husband collapsing to the floor but telling her to get out of the house.

A housewife, Sonam and her civil servant husband are married for three years. In their third year of marriage, the father of two daughters started drinking alcohol at bars after work. He used to come home drunk, violent and ready to abuse his wife. Since then beating her was a regular phenomenon.

Once Sonam had to see a doctor for the bruises the beatings had left all over her body. She told the doctor she had fallen.

It never occurred to her that she should file a report at the police. She comes from a poor family and studied up to primary level.

Sonam's story is an example of how domestic violence occur in the city. And she is not alone.

She is among some 68.4 percent of Bhutanese women who are married and fell okay to be battered by their husbands, found a study on "attitude towards domestic violence," by the National Statistics Bureau (NSB).

But "rich" women were less willing to accept being battered than women in other wealth quintiles, the study found.

Records with the forensic unit show an increase in domestic violence (DV) cases over the years.

DV cases increased to 389 in 2009 from 112 in 2006.

NSB's study found women in rural areas more accepting of their husband's violent behavior towards them than women in urban areas.

About 73 percent of the women in central Bhutan was accepting of their abusive husbands while its 72 percent in the east and 64 percent in western Bhutan.

The study also revealed that a woman's acceptance of domestic violence was indirectly related to their level of education.

For example, about 71 percent of uneducated women were accepting of their husband's behavior. The "acceptance" is slightly less, 70.6 percent for women with a primary level of education and 62 percent for those with a secondary level of education.

Recently, Tenzin, a newly wed was home for lunch and found his wife had left her phone behind. His wife had told him she had a meeting at work and could not join him for lunch.

When his wife's phone buzzed, Tenzin did not answer. But when the phone rang again from the same number he answered but the caller, a man ended the call immediately.

He called back the number numerous times to no avail. When Tenzin confronted his wife about it, she denied having any relationship with "caller."

In rage, Tenzin started beating his wife. The second time a similar incident occurred, he hit her again which sent him to the police.

When the "caller" denied having any relationship with Tenzin's wife, the police detained him for hitting his wife without a "valid reason."

Officials from the Women and Child Protection Unit said some women come to the police station with the intention to get their husbands locked up.

Alcohol was found to be the main reason for DV, said police besides extra-marital affairs, conflicts between in-laws, money problems, and suspicious calls on cell phones.

Only 30 percent to 40 percent of domestic violence cases reported resulted in the husband or wife being put behind the bars, police said.

Although most DV victims are women, there are a few cases of men who are abused by their wives. Last year, there were at least three cases reported in Thimphu.

One of the male victims said he reported the incident to the police not because he could not hit his wife but because he was afraid he would not be able to control himself once he started hitting her.

But an educated woman like Dechen said she would divorce her husband if he ever abuse her while Kencho, a housewife said she wouldn't divorce her husband for a first time abuse. "Sometimes people make mistakes and we need to be forgiving," she said.

Pema, a businessman also feels that DV is unacceptable but his friends said it's needed to control their wives. "I respect my wife so whenever I have a problem with her, I solve it by discussing with her."

Most first time DV cases are withdrawn from the police after the couple compromised the issue but the police do not allow them to withdraw a case if its repeated.

Police said it's rare for DV cases to end in divorces. "When husbands get locked up, it ruins their reputation and affects their self-esteem," police said. "This leads to divorce but most don't divorce immediately."